B2B marketing leaders seem to be at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to addressing COVID-19, and the uncertainty it is creating for customers, through content marketing.
Marketers are trained to write content that aligns to topics that capture customer attention, and there is no other topic that is consistently top of mind among customers today quite like COVID-19. However, the nature of the topic presents some unique dynamics for marketers responsible for content marketing:
- Most marketers recognize they must avoid inadvertently presenting their brand as seeking to profit directly from the vulnerabilities and hardships of their customers during such a sensitive time.
- The market is already flooded with content about COVID-19, making it seemingly impossible for brands to capture customer attention by offering a unique perspective.
These potential inhibitors to success should not prevent marketers from deploying COVID-19-related content. That said, these dynamics suggest that marketers must hold themselves to an even higher standard in terms of creating content that customers actually value.
What Content Do B2B Customers Value in Times of Disruption?
Gartner research shows that the vast majority of organizations are facing at least some levels of business disruption due to COVID-19. In many ways, the current crisis has exacerbated long-simmering uncertainty plaguing B2B decision making. A 2019 Gartner survey revealed that the majority of complex B2B solutions purchases are made within the context of organizational change (i.e., business operations, market environment, and/or organizational structure).
In times of uncertainty, customers value content that helps them make sense of all of the disruption going on around them. B2B brands should create and deploy content that helps customers navigate through times of uncertainty with greater confidence.
Customers are not seeking confidence that potential suppliers are “here for them” in times of trouble. Nor are they seeking confidence that certain suppliers offer “best-in-class” solutions. Instead, customers are in need of confidence in themselves and their own organization’s ability to survive, if not thrive, during times of disruption and uncertainty.
Helping Customers Navigate Through Uncertainty More Confidently
There are a number of ways in which brands can use content marketing to help customers more confidently navigate through uncertainty. Some potential options include helping customers:
- Assess the impact that COVID-19 is having on their business.
- Anticipate future potential risks to their business.
- Determine which of the abundant and diverse sources of COVID-19-related information is most relevant to their business.
- Figure out if they’re even asking the right questions.
- Set clear expectations to have, goals to set, and steps to follow.
- Align different organizational stakeholders around a shared vision and list of execution steps to carry their organization through uncertain times.
To be clear, you shouldn’t try to be a one-stop-shop for all customers’ COVID-19 response needs. You have neither the time nor the expertise to make that happen. Instead, focus on content topics that are directly relevant to what you do in the market and present a focused, unique POV that aligns back to your audience. You can lean on internal subject matter experts (and even outside partners) to source insights to share with your audience.
Consider These Examples for Inspiration
HealthcareSource, a provider of talent management software and services for customers in the healthcare industry, is producing content on the topic of Hiring in a Time of Crisis. HealthcareSource is offering customers a set of discrete action items healthcare organizations should be taking to adjust their hiring practices during the crisis.
So far, HealthcareSource is able to offer this guidance in seemingly vendor-agnostic ways. It’s simply offering credible, valuable support that would be helpful irrespective of whether or not HealthcareSource’s products and services even existed.
Another example comes from Export Development Canada (EDC), a provider of insurance, financial services, and other solutions to Canadian exporters, investors, and international buyers. EDC has quickly developed a portfolio of COVID-19-related content on relevant topics such as COVID-19’s implications for business investments and how to manage business risk during the COVID-19 crisis.
Prioritize Customer Listening
COVID-19 containment, market status, and as result, customer needs are evolving on an ongoing basis. Now more than ever, it’s important that you are using tactics to listen to your customers.
To quickly and effectively collect intelligence on customer needs, you can monitor social media channels, such as LinkedIn, to see what your target audience is posting about and engaging with. You should also turn to your internal stakeholders who are continuing to speak with your customers on a regular basis, such as your sales reps (direct or indirect) and your customer service team. Keep fine tuning your content efforts by aligning to what you are hearing from your customers.
Deploy Agile Content Marketing Tactics and Form Factors
Given the immediacy of customers’ need for confidence in navigating through the crisis, the quickly evolving nature of the pandemic, and the need to react quickly, you might not have the time and resources necessary to invest in some of the long-form, research-intensive thought leadership tactics marketers typically deploy.
If you do, great. That said, you should look to remain agile and achieve quick wins. Rather than a five-page white paper, partner with internal SMEs to write blogs. Instead of deploying a detailed benchmarking survey, conduct one-off polling on social media channels or through webinars. You could lessen the burden of developing content for a 30-minute webinar or podcast by hosting a panel of internal SMEs and/or third-party experts. In fact, you don’t even need to rely on content produced by your own organization. Seek out high-quality, third-party content to post on social media.
Activate Content and Insights Across Channels
As you develop your content, promote it on your corporate social media pages and post it on your website. Many organizations are featuring COVID-19 resource centers directly on their website home page.
Given the circumstances, you might already be rethinking your media mix. For example, organizations are considering a shift towards digital channels, as opposed to live events, to keep up with lead generation objectives. As such, you could even consider promoting your content using paid media, such as LinkedIn sponsored content.
You should also make sure your broader organization, particularly your sales team (and channel partners), are aware of your COVID-19-response content efforts. You can suggest content for employees to post from their personal social media accounts.
Additionally, you can coach your sales team (and channel partners) on how to tactfully tie your COVID-19-related insights back to your value proposition (but be careful not to oversell here).
As the landscape surrounding COVID-19 and economic disruption continues to evolve and as the information marketplace related to COVID-19 continues to crowd, you can differentiate your brand by staying focused on deploying content that helps customers more confidently navigate their business through disruption.
Continue to track the Gartner for Marketers Expert Blog and Gartner’s Pandemic Response Resource Center for free insights on how you can more confidently navigate through the disruptions impacting your business.